Superman, meet teacher Dan Brown

The film, Waiting for Superman, has been deemed by many as a major knock on public education. Yet, there are lessons to be learned on how to improve our public schools. Follow an education teacher leader expert as he reports on what can be gleaned from the movie as well as what was conspicuously missing.

This week comes the long awaited release of Waiting for Superman — Davis Guggenheim’s poignant portrayal of the travails of school reform and the heartbreaking stories of students who do not have access to high performing charter schools or enough dedicated teachers. The film is powerful with a lot of emotional impact.

Some reviewers have described WFS as a “searing indictment” of the education system, particularly unions, with their work rules that allegedly handcuff administrators and policymakers from hiring the academically talented and energized teachers underserved students desperately need.

But there is more to the story than what is told in the hour and forty-two minute movie. Much more, in fact. Dan Brown, one of the outstanding young teachers in our Teacher Leaders Network, speaks volumes to the narrative that Guggenheim ignored or did not know how to craft as a filmmaker. Dan teaches at SEED Public Charter School in Washington, D.C. (one of the charters highlighted positively in WFS) and he has seen the film twice.  In a recent blog post, he offers a far more compelling description of what it takes for teachers to teach effectively in high needs school communities. Dan speaks boldly to the facts that at SEED teachers are “accountable without feeling terrorized,” and they “feel ownership” over their teaching while they get help in “becom(ing) better each year.”

At schools like SEED, well-prepared teachers are recruited and expected to stay in teaching for more than a few years (so they can know students and families well). They take seriously the need for ongoing training to improve their pedagogical expertise. Teachers are not seen as the problem, but the solution. And the solution is not a silver bullet — like implementing merit pay plans that have little effect on student achievement.

SEED’s recipe for success is not exclusive. Other successful schools, actually led by teachers and advanced by their unions, like the Math and Science Leadership Academy in Denver, CO also provide vivid images of what effective public schools look like and how they are created.

I understand that some school reformers, progressive educators, and even union leaders will be frustrated by what WFS missed or glossed over. However, WFS does highlight an important issue, and I am hopeful that policymakers, the public, journalists and yes, filmmakers too, will listen a bit more carefully to expert teachers like Dan about the qualities and working conditions that lead to good teaching in every kind of school.

By listening closely, we can all begin to elevate the debate over how to improve our public schools and look for true TeacherSolutions that ensure all students have access to well-prepared and qualified teachers.